Sunday, June 23, 2013

Getting your news despite the news media

I rarely listen to the mainstream news, because it is riddled with so many assumptions and unspoken claims that I vehemently disagree with.  Reporting on government is all about politicians jockeying for advantage rather than about actual governance or the systemic corruption that has mostly replaced democracy.  Reporting on the environment thoroughly ghettoizes any talk of sustainability away from all the things that we are supposed to value.  Economic reporting deals almost entirely with the concerns of the rentier class - stocks, investments, the "creation" of jobs and so on.

It's not accidental, of course.  We have a mass media completely in the hands of enormous corporations, which are mostly funded by delivering eyeballs to the advertising of other large corporations, overseen by a regulatory system that is nominally in the public interest, but co-opted at every level by corporate influence.

When was the last time you watched the news and saw information on how to form a union - or found out about other ways that employees were successfully insisting on things that suited their interests?  How about the idea that avoiding catastrophic climate change almost certainly means leaving fossil fuels in the ground and ratcheting back on the culture of consumption?  As for the political system, the media will deplore the state of our democracy, but only in ways that encourage people to double down on the constricted channels of present-day partisanship or else disengage entirely.

If an anti-consumerism were to germinate (whether rooted in environmental sustainability, Christian anti-materialism, or some other rejection of our deeply unsatisfying culture), how could it possibly thrive in a media environment that is entirely built upon delivering consumers to businesses?

The solutions?

Pay for the product (rather than being the product).  I chip in $15 a month for the New York Times for straight national and international news.   Reading the products produced at the NYT, the Guardian, and the Independent will keep one up to date on most of the major events.

Support publicly funded media as an alternative.  The effort by politicians to push PBS and NPR out of the public interest model and into the corporate advertising business model has been mostly successful.  But there is still potential to re-claim that portion of the mediascape as our own.

If you are really motivated to understand what is going on around you, get your news from non-corporate sources.  The blogosphere may be a raggedy crazy quilt of information, but it's also richer and more self-correcting than the main media sources.  Grist and Think Progress do excellent environmental  and general interest reporting.  For the progressive version of politics and punditry, Balloon Juice, TPM or some of the writers on Daily Kos keep a smart, critical eye on things.  You can find smart, informed, critically-minded people out there on any subject you care about.  Chip in a few bucks when you can.

There's more news out there than I could ever possibly digest or interpret, and it takes some work and practice to navigate.  But until we can actually construct and maintain a media industry that serves us (rather than serving people who don't mean us well) I'll have to do it the hard way.

I should mention Rolling Stone as a journalistic powerhouse these days.  This week's report on doomed Miami has a refreshingly forthright tone about the consequences of climate change:
Sea-level rise is not a hypothetical disaster. It is a physical fact of life on a warming planet, the basic dynamics of which even a child can understand: Heat melts ice. Since the 1920s, the global average sea level has risen about nine inches, mostly from the thermal expansion of the ocean water. But thanks to our 200-year-long fossil-fuel binge, the great ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica are starting to melt rapidly now, causing the rate of sea-level rise to grow exponentially. The latest research, including an assessment by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, suggests that sea level could rise more than six feet by the end of the century. James Hansen, the godfather of global-warming science, has argued that it could increase as high as 16 feet by then – and Wanless believes that it could continue rising a foot each decade after that. "With six feet of sea-level rise, South Florida is toast," says Tom Gustafson, a former Florida speaker of the House and a climate-change-policy advocate. Even if we cut carbon pollution overnight, it won't save us. Ohio State glaciologist Jason Box has said he believes we already have 70 feet of sea-level rise baked into the system.

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